There are some eateries so unexpectedly good that, to prevent crowds, I wouldn’t tell you about if I weren’t being paid to do it. Lake City Way’s Man’oushe Express is one of those places.
Located about 10 blocks north of Lake City’s main business district, Man’oushe looks, like any other gyro-and-hummus joint, unprepossessing from the street. The interior is nondescript but squeaky-clean, with not much to look at besides the excitingly giant pizza oven in the back.
We ordered lunch for four, which came to roughly $48, the world’s last great deal. But this is nothing like cheap, greasy takeout food — far from it. I went with a friend who’s Lebanese, who gave a delightedly approving nod to everything that arrived. Indeed, Man’oushe Express, owned and operated by a Lebanese family who also operates a market in the same space, is her go-to spot for comfort food. It’s well worth the drive from her house in South Seattle and the trip to the ATM (the restaurant only takes cash).
Man’oushe is, unsurprisingly, known for authentic mana’eesh (Lebanese flatbread pizza), so we tried three versions, one liberally sprinkled with spicy za’atar (a spice blend of thyme, oregano, sesame and sumac); one with sujuk (beef sausage), accompanied by a swirl of heady garlic sauce; and one with lamb, minced and mixed with tomato, onion and mysterious “special spices” ($5.49 each). The dough was light and chewy, the toppings fresh — the mana’eesh, therefore, short-lived on the table.
But mana’eesh is only one facet of the menu — they also excel at the roasted-meat game. We tried the lamb shawarma sandwich ($7.95), which came packed with fresh parsley, onion, tomato, tahini and a generous pile of roasted lamb meat, and the falafel sandwich ($6.95). This falafel was exceptional, crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, and both sandwiches came perfectly toasted and wrapped so tightly we could have eaten them while walking down the street.
We ordered a suite of side dishes/appetizers to complete the meal, including the housemade baba ganoush ($4.95), smoky with roasted eggplant and worth the trip by itself, and the lebni ($4.50), a tangy plate of strained kefir yogurt (the prepackaged stuff, my friend noted, but still good) that I ended up smearing all over everything else. Both came with a fresh pita to share, puffed like a small balloon. Another tip: Order the side of vegetables ($2), which comes with fresh mint, cucumber, olives and zingy pink pickled turnip that serves as a crisp contrast to the somewhat decadent meal.
And as a bonus, lunch can double as a trip to the market; the family also owns a Lebanese grocery store downstairs (or rather, down the steeply sloping driveway) called Goodies Mediterranean Market (which does accept credit cards). The restaurant itself is only a few years old; previously, the proprietors sold just mana’eesh out of a window in the back of Goodies, which has also grown considerably over the years. Now you’ll find its aisles piled high with organic halal meats, specialty vegetables (tiny eggplants! okra!) and every possible Middle Eastern food item you could desire (bulgur wheat from fine to coarse, dried freekeh, Turkish delight, etc.). And yes, that includes the incomparable baba ganoush from the restaurant upstairs to take home and eat at midnight.
Man’oushe Express/Goodies Mediterranean Market, Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-7 p.m., 13721 Lake City Way N.E., (Lake City) Seattle; 206-367-0895, manousheexpress.com, goodiesmedmarket.com